Must-See Midtown: Culture

Harrison Peck

Every city has its share of museums, concert halls and theaters, but New York's renowned cultural institutions are where actors, musicians, dancers and artists from around the globe aspire to someday showcase their talents. As a result, New York is home to an unparalleled collection of cultural institutions, and Midtown Manhattan boasts some of the largest and most internationally significant creative spaces in the City. Only in Midtown can you see The Starry Night by Vincent van Gogh, take in a performance from the New York Philharmonic, catch a Tony Award–winning musical, view original, handwritten Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart manuscripts and explore a real World War II aircraft carrier all in the space of just a few blocks. As a result, it can take days, weeks or more to experience Midtown's offerings—but here are eight essential cultural destinations that are not to be missed.


The 40 theaters in New York's Theatre District set the standard for modern productions. Many world-famous plays and musicals have debuted here, while household names such as George Gershwin, Ethel Merman and Arthur Miller rocketed to stardom through their work on and off Broadway stages. Today, Broadway shows are as popular as ever, and both native New Yorkers and visitors alike relish the exhilaration of being part of an audience. Though theater schedules vary, shows typically run eight times per week, with evening performances Tuesdays through Saturdays (at 7 or 8pm), matinees on Wednesdays and Saturdays at 2pm and Sundays at 3pm, and no shows on Mondays. For steep ticket markdowns, head to the TKTS Discount Booth below the red staircase at Broadway and West 47th Street, where many shows sell tickets at up to 50 percent off face value. If the show you want to see isn't listed, check back later or on another day; ticket availability changes constantly.

Housed in a real 900-foot World War II aircraft carrier, the world's largest naval museum boasts the space shuttle Enterprise, the USS Growler submarine and a British Airways Concorde.

Carnegie Hall

Performing at Carnegie Hall marks a career landmark for musicians the world over. The 1891 concert hall is home to one of the most prestigious stages on the planet, where internationally celebrated classical musicians dazzle audiences with hundreds of performances per season, and legends from Benny Goodman, Judy Garland and Count Basie to Tina Turner, the Doors and the Beatles (to name just a few) have given momentous concerts. Taking in a performance in the five-level Stern Auditorium and hearing the room's extraordinary acoustics is undoubtedly an essential NYC experience. Visit the box office online for a performance schedule and to purchase tickets. The theater is closed during July and August, but at other times, be sure to take a guided tour of the facility to learn about Carnegie Hall's distinguished history, and, after the tour, check out the Rose Museum, which contains concert programs, recordings, photographs, fliers and other historic artifacts.


While Christie's, one of New York's premier auction houses, may be best known for its record-shattering sales (a Pablo Picasso sold for $106.5 million in May 2010), the astonishing collections of fine art, jewelry, textiles, antique furniture and other rare items sold at auction are easily accessible to anyone with a keen eye and appreciation for valuable objects. Auctions are free to attend and open to the general public, though you must register in advance if you plan to bid. To allow visitors to spend more time enjoying the sale items up close without the high-intensity auction-house atmosphere, Christie's holds free viewing hours during the days leading up to auctions (viewing hours vary, so check the schedule online before going).

Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum

Head west along 46th Street to the Hudson River to explore the superbly refurbished Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum. Housed in a real 900-foot World War II aircraft carrier, the world's largest naval museum boasts a collection of 30 restored aircrafts and lets visitors tour the space shuttle Enterprise, the USS Growler submarine, the British Airways Concorde and sailors' one-time living quarters on the Intrepid. (Other planes on the flight deck include the Lockheed A-12 Blackbird, and a collection of Soviet MiGs.) Kids will get a rush in the Exploreum, which features exhilarating interactive experiences like the dynamic XD Theater and the Gforce Encounter flight simulator, which allows for full 360-degree movement.

The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA)

MoMA is as significant a showcase for modern masterworks as it is an innovator of art-world trends and an incubator of game-changing conceptions of art itself. Thanks to a complete overhaul of the museum building in 2004, MoMA's comprehensive collection now boasts a bright and spacious home—centered around an airy five-story atrium and overlooking a sculpture garden—whose design reflects the modernity of its contents. A number of iconic works are essential stops for any MoMA visitor—Vincent van Gogh's The Starry Night, Andrew Wyeth's Christina's World and Henri Matisse's Dance, among many others, are not to be missed. But don't stop there. In addition to the permanent collection's fine art, MoMA manages seven curatorial departments—Architecture and Design; Drawings; Painting and Sculpture; Photography; Prints and Illustrated Books; Film; and Media and Performance Art. After working up an appetite, settle in for an haute meal at the museum's Danny Meyer–operated restaurant The Modern, or, for a quicker meal and more casual fare, stop by Cafe 2 on the second floor or Terrace 5 next to the Painting and Sculpture Galleries. Finish off your trip with a visit to the MoMA Design and Book Store, where you can find artful reimaginings of everyday household objects.

Essential stops for any MoMA visitor include Vincent van Gogh's "The Starry Night," Andrew Wyeth's "Christina's World" and Henri Matisse's "Dance."

Museum of Arts and Design

Originally called the Museum of Contemporary Crafts and housed in an unassuming building across the street from MoMA, the Museum of Arts and Design (MAD) outgrew its digs and moved to its 10-story home on Columbus Circle (in the former Lollipop Building) in 2008. This new building affords the museum with three times as much gallery space and visitors with spectacular Central Park views from each floor. MAD's continually growing permanent collection contains more than 2,000 objects—including woven tapestries, wooden furniture, metal tableware and an extensive array of fine jewelry—that celebrate modern-day craftspeople and the art of handmade objects. MAD typically hosts two special exhibitions at a time, while the sixth floor contains the City's only permanently open artist studios, where visitors are free to watch artists at work and chat with them about their crafts.

The Morgan Library & Museum

This oft-overlooked Midtown gem, which began as the private library of financier Pierpont Morgan, has grown into one of the City's most important holdings of rare paper artifacts, including handwritten literary and musical manuscripts, first-edition books and original drawings and prints. Highlights of the Morgan's vast collection include Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci sketches, handwritten Ludwig van Beethoven symphonies, a manuscript of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol, three Gutenberg Bibles, an autographed Abraham Lincoln speech and more. Originally housed in a relatively modest Charles McKim–designed building, thanks to a 2006 Renzo Piano renovation, the Morgan's phenomenal record of scholarly and artistic history now occupies 50 percent more gallery space and includes a concert hall, two new restaurants, a reading room and a luminous glass entry hall.